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Building on the success of the kids' sports league he started in Kampala, Trevor Dudley is now using the league, and the several related endeavors it has inspired, to involve communities throughout the region in nurturing children.

This profile below was prepared when Trevor Dudley was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.


Building on the success of the kids' sports league he started in Kampala, Trevor Dudley is now using the league, and the several related endeavors it has inspired, to involve communities throughout the region in nurturing children.


In their efforts to focus students on academic goals, teachers and parents in Uganda overlook critical developmental needs of children. Kids lack chances to play hard, learn teamwork and goal-setting, experiment with leadership, and pursue shared goals alongside children of diverse backgrounds. Drawing on his own childhood experiences and those of his kids, Trevor saw that sports–or, more specifically, a carefully structured sports league–could fill in many of the missing gaps in learning and skill development. To test this theory, he started a volunteer-run youth soccer league in Kampala in 1998. Now, five years later, the league offers thousands of children–boys and girls, Ugandans and foreigners, rich and poor–chances to train, strategize, win, lose, and grow up together. Building on the success of this initial effort, Trevor is now taking the league to rural Uganda, and indeed to all of East Africa, and using it to deliver social and heath messages to kids and engage parents and communities in nurturing and supporting children. By stimulating volunteer and corporate involvement in the league, Trevor is also introducing what promises to be an effective model of engagement for citizen efforts of all sorts.


In Uganda, and in much of Africa, classroom instruction remains formal, favoring rote memorization to participatory learning. Children sit at their desks, or cross-legged on the floor, for hours as their teachers talk at them, reading off word lists, relating fact after fact. Few extracurricular activities take up where formal education leaves off, teaching important social skills that will prepare children for the challenges adulthood and citizenship bring. Moreover, the classroom experience reinforces the stratification present elsewhere in childrens lives. The kids of politicians and ambassadors live in gated neighborhoods and go to gated schools; they lack chances to know and become friends with the children across town. Street kids, and children from poor families, lead similarly confined lives.

Instruction in life skills has been picked up by some of many citizen groups and churches. But, delivered as it is in the classroom or Sunday school, many critical messages–eat well, avoid risky sexual practices, demonstrate initiative, respect others–are lost on kids. Furthermore, the tone obscures a focus on building an improved future in which the whole community invests time, energy, and resources.

A few sports leagues have been attempted in Uganda, but Trevor sees in them sees two main faults. First, they focus on athletics as the be-all, end-all, ignoring the potential of sports to provide opportunities for learning, exposure, and integration. Instead, they engender what Trevor sees as unhealthy competition, emphasizing winning over and above far more important aims. Second, these efforts are disorganized and fail to earn the confidence of participants, volunteers, and sponsors, or to inspire kids to strive for quality in their own endeavors.


Trevor describes his organizational framework in the language of geometry, showing an equilateral triangle, with participants (children for the League), volunteers (parents), and businesses (corporate sponsors) representing one side each. He shows that the integrity of the structure falters when the involvement of one group diminishes or fails to grow proportionally with the others.

To engage kids, the main target group, Trevor sees that constitution of teams is critical, as he wants to provide kids with a chance to develop friendships with children they would otherwise have no occasion to meet. First teams are all co-ed–at least one girl on every team. While still less than half, girls' representation in the league is growing, and girls are given as much play time as their boy teammates. Second, Trevor welcomes children of all backgrounds onto each team as a way to encourage diversity, give kids of different backgrounds a common goal, and orient them to achieve it. Guided by responsible adult coaches, the players celebrate victory, cope with defeat, and most of all, respect everyone on the field–opponent players, their teammates, and referees. At the end of the sports season, each child is given a small trophy, a certificate celebrating his or her participation and hard work, and a team photograph.

Trevor involves parents in a range of activities, including refereeing, coaching, coordinating teams and events, and simply showing up at games to support their kids in an activity that is important to them. Parents are expected to accompany their kids to matches, and as Trevor has observed, parent involvement in the league allows supportive, nurturing relationships to develop. Trevor intends another important outcome as well: parents find themselves organizing transportation and refereeing matches alongside other parents who are as different from them as their children are from each other. Trevor also involves nonparent volunteers, and will draw in VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) volunteers as his program expands.

To local businesses, the league offers a chance to earn credibility with the community by sponsoring a team. Commercial sponsors cover the costs of nets, balls, bats, and uniforms and tee-shirts for players, coaches, and referees. Local sponsorship has cut registration fees by 80 percent, making the league affordable to just about anyone. (For families who still cannot afford the fee, Trevor makes special arrangements for their participation.) While Trevor has not yet formalized the selection criteria for sponsors, he says that services or products of participating businesses must be "consistent with children."

Until now, the league has been a city-wide league–the Kampala Kids League. In the five years since its first sports season, it has attracted 5,500 children ages 6-14, representing 120 schools, orphanages, and street children's organizations around Kampala. Having begun with soccer, the league now offers basketball, baseball, and tenpin bowling. It has been a huge success and has attracted a good deal of media attention. Kids see their names in the newspapers; the public sees a new Uganda in the beaming faces of the players–black, white, Asian, boys, girls–their arms linked around each other; corporate sponsors see themselves and their competitors credited with supporting a community endeavor that is a success.

The Kampala Kids League is now well established; it runs efficiently and has reached a healthy size. Now, Trevor has begun an ambitious plan to take the league to all districts of Uganda and beyond. A core management team of six people (several of whom are volunteers) meets with district officials, arranges workshops with concerned local people and with citizen groups involved in youth development, and finds a dedicated person to serve as the local coordinator. Trevor expects the number of people directly involved (children, parents, sponsors) to follow this trajectory: Year one (2003) - 12 Districts or 6,000 people; Year two - 24 Districts or 18,000 people; Year three - 36 Districts or 42,000 people; Year four - 48 Districts or 90,000 people; Year five - 56 Districts or 186,000 people. Organizations in neighboring countries have asked for his help in setting up similar organizations. Trevor hopes that one day the effort will reach across Africa.


A native of Nottingham, England, Trevor began his professional career as a quantity surveyor. His work took him to East Africa for the first time in 1979, then to the Middle East for three years in the mid-80s, where he worked on large-scale projects such as the construction of the International Airport in Amman. Since returning to East Africa in the late 80s, he has built and renovated universities, bank buildings, hydroelectric facilities, and highways. Along the way he learned to set ambitious but realistic goals, execute with attention to detail, and deliver the intended results. In 1991 he moved to Kampala where he cofounded a construction company and settled down to stay.

Trevor's career exposed him to the infrastructure challenges that post-colonial societies here face–infrastructure in two senses: first, the physical sense, which is clear enough (roads, buildings, schools, and so on), but social infrastructure as well, which to Trevor seemed almost as clear. To him, East Africa presented a situation where poverty, conflict, and poor governance had eroded citizen initiative. He saw that adults had no energy or hope left to pass on to their children.

Trevor's introduction to sports came early in life when, as a teenager and university student, he played cricket and soccer. He credits sports with teaching him what academics did not: teamwork, leadership, goal-setting, and appreciation of sustained effort. His experience with his own children–a son and a daughter–reinforced this sense. When the family lived in Amman, his son played soccer in a league with Palestinians and Isrealis. For his son, and for Trevor and his wife, the league demonstrated that shared goals and shared fun can overcome diversity–even adversity–and can bring together estranged communities of people. His son, now in his 20s, still remembers the names of every player on the Amman team and keeps his trophy in his university dorm room; it was a powerful part of his education and personal development.

Trevor believes deeply in children and in their great potential to steer any society to a hopeful future, to overcome a legacy of political and economic struggle. This belief underpins his thinking about the league and makes him and his work eminently important here.

Trevor lives in Kampala with his wife, a teacher and founder of the Acorn School, a private primary school. In late 2002, he resigned from his company to devote his full attention to the expansion of the league.